At about 5:30 on the second Wednesday of every month this year, I walked across the New River from my house in Dun Glen to attend a town meeting in Thurmond. Once there, I joined with the town’s five permanent residents to discuss town business over dinner in Thurmond’s one-room town hall. We approved the minutes from our last meeting, went over the town’s budget, and discussed plans for upcoming town projects and events. Sometimes our meetings were interrupted by a train passing by on the tracks just a stone’s throw from our meeting place. In that event we all filed outside to wave at it as it made its way through town. Once the train passed by and the noise subsided, town meeting would resume in West Virginia’s smallest incorporated town.
Though Thurmond is an incredibly small town, it cannot be described as sleepy. The people of Thurmond take great pride in their community. This year alone, they repaired their Main Street, installed new town banners, and started making plans to build a municipal sewer system. On top of that, they do light maintenance and mowing in the town’s public spaces and host an annual litter pick-up event called Thurmond Clean-up Day. In years not affected by a global pandemic, they host a triathlon and a family festival called Train Days.
The people of Thurmond are not alone in their efforts to care for their town. The National Park Service owns most of the property in Thurmond, including about 20 historic buildings. As an AmeriCorps member serving at the New River Gorge National River, I was involved in a project to develop a historic preservation field school using Thurmond as the “classroom” where participants will learn how to care for historic buildings. Over the course of the year, we developed a plan for our project, presented our ideas to the park’s leadership team for their approval, and contacted colleges to gauge their interest and ask them to participate. Between December and October, PAWV's executive director, Danielle Parker, alongside myself and Park Staff made great strides toward getting the project off of the ground; the project was approved at the park level, and we have six colleges interested in partnering with us in this project. The next steps will involve more in depth and specific planning and coordination to determine how we will work with colleges, and what work we will accomplish together.
Working on this field school project was an incredibly gratifying part of my term here at the New River Gorge. Not only because of how the project is coming together and how promising it is, but also because it has been a way for me to play a role in caring for the town of Thurmond, just as its residents do.
Will Whearty was the Preserve WV AmeriCorps member at the New River Gorge National River during the 2019-2020 program year.
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